Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fight Club

I haven't written much about our family trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes last weekend, and that's because it was sort of terrible.  The first time we took the girls to one of our very favorite places on earth, we were filled with trepidation:  Would they love it, too?  Could we still eat at our favorite restaurant, still hike in the dunes, still waste hours throwing rocks into the clearest lake water?  Would we all have a wonderful time, or would they ruin it for us?

This time around, we might have been a little too cocky.  We stayed at the same little condo we rented last fall, only this time it was warmer and sunnier.  We wanted to try some new things - new restaurants, new hikes, a new lake to explore, a new river to kayak - and we planned to meet up with a group of friends at their campground for a night of cooking over an open fire and traipsing through the woods.

We did all those things (and more), but the weekend left a sour taste in my mouth, and that's because of The Fighting.  If you have very young children (younger than mine) and are up to your ears in dirty diapers, bottles, midnight feedings, infant carseat-lugging, and piles of baby-food-stained laundry, you might want to avert your eyes and scroll down to the pictures at the bottom of the post.  Because here's the part where I'm going to do that super-annoying, a@@hole thing where I say, "If you think it's hard now, just wait.  Just wait until the entire tenor of a weekend can be determined by the fact that your children will find things to fight over that you would never in a million years think that two people could fight over.  They'll fight over who chooses the video for the car ride, over whether or not the other person is copying them, over who gets to sit next to Daddy at every single restaurant meal, over whose stone belongs to whom, over whose turn it is to use the camera, over where and how to build a fairy house, over sunglasses, over soap, over the flower petals they're using to make a suncatcher.  JUST.  WAIT."

The Fighting, to be clear, has been going on for months now, and usually I think it's a normal part of the sibling relationship.  Usually it comes and goes in fits and phases, balanced out by long days and weeks of very little fighting at all.  There is plenty of teamwork, plenty of giggling, plenty of sisterly love to balance the fighting when I look at it over the span of weeks or months.  But since approximately the minute that Annie walked out the doors of her school for the last time, The Fighting has been almost non-stop.  And here's where I berate myself for my foolish, foolish plan of scheduling NOTHING for the first full week of summer.  We'll sleep in! I thought.  We'll play games in our pajamas and walk to the coffee shop and go to the pool and the playground whenever we feel like it!  We'll bake something, or have a lemonade stand, or take a bike ride, and we'll be happy and freewheeling and old-fashioned and it will really feel like summer.  And then we'll go up north for a weekend family vacation!

But no.  Instead, we have fought - because their fighting leads to my reaction, which leads (so far) to more fighting.  I have tried a few different strategies to cope with The Fighting:

  • Ignoring.  This is probably the one I should employ 99% of the time, but it is almost physically impossible for me to do it.  I can do it for a little while, sure, but at a certain point the noise of the bickering amplifies magically in my brain until it is all I can hear, and I can't take it anymore.  As I told my sister-in-law, it sucks out my soul.  Not to be dramatic or anything.
  • Separating.  This is my usual go-to, and the one that works the best, but is the most time-consuming and annoying to have to follow through on.  I go all Love & Logic and say some version of "It sounds like the two of you aren't being kind to each other.  Please go to your rooms and come out when you can be kind."  At which point they go to their rooms for .2 seconds, come back out, and resume the behavior.  Repeat to infinity.  This strategy is also sometimes impossible to implement, like in the car, at a restaurant, or almost anywhere in public when I am by myself with the girls.
  • Yelling.  This is the least effective choice and yet sometimes it cannot be helped.  I can only ignore and/or separate so many times until I lose my patience and my mind, and even then I try really hard to make repeated requests in firmer, calmer voices to show that I mean business.  But sometimes, driving down Lake Dr., having said, "Please keep your hands to yourself" seventeen times, a yell sneaks out.  At which point the children are SHOCKED and ALARMED and INNOCENTLY WOUNDED and they say, pathetically, "Mom!  Don't raise your voice at me like that!" and then go right back to The Fighting.
These are the things, then, that were happening last weekend in one of our favorite places on earth.  At one point, I side-mouth-whispered to Jason, "She's being willfully insolent!" and he looked at me, amused, and said, "Who are you, Dr. Evil?"  So at least we can still laugh at it, which is something, I guess.  And this week has been better.  The girls are in a theatre camp every morning this week, giving them something fun to do with other people and me some time to write and get things done around the house.  But when I look at the (mostly happy) pictures of last weekend - of spoiling our lunch with shakes at LakerShakes, of floating on the Platte River in the sunshine, of hiking Pyramid Pointe, of Grocer's Daughter's Chocolate, of roasting dinner over the fire, of discovering North Bar Lake at sunset, of eating outside at Art's Tavern - I am reminded of something I read on All & Sundry years ago that has stuck with me.  

"Somebody left me a comment once about how family photos are like looking at ducks in the water, how you only see part of what’s really there — all the furious paddling underneath is hidden. I love that, it’s so true, and it’s one of the reasons I love taking so many pictures. It helps me remember and focus on the good moments, and let the memories fade of the churn it took just to make it through the day."


  1. Love the truth in this...and the All and Sundry comment. That one will stick with me too.

  2. Thanks, Kel. Isn't it a great image?